A beautiful thing I do not need

The apparently long-awaited day has at last dawned and set. Apple has at last revealed the latest thing that no one knew they needed, but now they all do. Will anyone’s income tax refund be safe? After a decade of smoldering anticipation of this “magical and revolutionary device” as it is so subtly described, what can the public possibly do by way of an adequate response?

It was my eldest sister who put it perfectly: “I was initially unimpressed, and then [my husband] convinced me that I want one.”

See, that is precisely what I am unsettled by. This is not a solution to a problem I knew I had.

For a proper analogy, allow me to go on a bit about Moleskine notebooks. After a young lifetime of scribbling in a wide variety of little notebooks, I discovered the iconic black-bound journal in its handy pocket size. I loved it, but wished it was a little bigger. It wasn’t long before I found that they also came in the roughly 5″x8″ size, and I was delighted. I would never need any notebooks but these, ever again. I mean, unless they came in a larger, composition-book size…

Well, the paper-cover Cahier series came along, which included a comp-sized version. I loved the size, but wished that it came with the more durable flex-cover of the discontinued Volant series. And after a year or three, they brought the Volant back, and added a new comp-book version to the line. Sweet: but wouldn’t it be just totally awesome if it had the hard-cover of the classic Moleskine? Wouldn’t you know it: last year saw the debut of the outsize A4 and A3 hardcover notebooks, which I have yet to be able to afford.

So yes, I am an über-Moleskine geek. But my point is this: here was a product that I loved to use, that played a significant functional rôle in my daily life. Even though I loved it as it was, I could also continually think of ways in which I would like to see it bettered, ways which apparently others also imagined. Each of those increments in product variation fell neatly into a desire I already knew I had. The iPad, for me, fills no such rôle. (It may for some, but I can’t speak for you.) It is unquestionably an impressive machine, beautiful and appealing. But is it something I was wishing for? Not in any way. Now, every time I use my (still serviceable) six-year-old iBook I think of how sweet it would be to have a new aluminium MacBook Pro perched on my lap instead. That thought represents a clear, discernible step toward improving a need I am already meeting in an observably less-splendid way. I am out in the field with a well-crafted tool that I know how to wield; I just wish I had a sharper model, with a better handle.

Of course, that is the magic that Apple has so long had mastered: unveiling an ingenious (and expensive) new product with so much appeal that people fall over themselves to bring it into their lives. And they are, with rare exceptions, tremendous products, even if we didn’t know we needed them until we were told we did. I can say personally that, up until the end of this past summer, I had no inkling that I needed a digital music player that I could fit up my nose. Yet now I wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without my 3rd generation iPod Shuffle (though I usually have it clipped inside a pocket rather than a nostril). And I won’t lie to you: if Steve Jobs dropped by tomorrow and handed me a gratis iPad, I am sure I would love it. But I would have to learn how to first.

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